Networking: The Next Frontier for the Cloud DBA

by   |   October 26, 2016 5:30 am   |   0 Comments

Thomas LaRock, Head Geek, SolarWinds

Thomas LaRock, Head Geek, SolarWinds

For today’s database administrators (DBAs), the rapid adoption of hybrid IT may be somewhat concerning. While our primary responsibilities—data recovery, data security and database performance—may remain the same, the integration of cloud services and distributed applications has introduced a greater level of complexity and potential challenges.

The reality is that the rate of change in the data center is accelerating, and IT professionals working in any capacity must simultaneously change and adapt. Today, it’s no longer sufficient for DBAs to be proficient in only one area of technology, i.e., the database. The interconnected nature of the modern data center, coupled with the thousands of services technology vendors can provide, now requires DBAs to become “cloud DBAs” who know a little of everything—including basic networking skills like configuring VPNs, understanding topologies and the ability to troubleshoot network performance issues—in order to be truly effective in our role.

Why networking?

Cloud computing and hybrid IT have created a “borderless” IT environment, and traditional data management methods will no longer provide us with the visibility and level of information needed to deliver on end users’ high expectations. Beyond that, one of the primary reasons organizations move to the cloud is to see a reduction in total cost of ownership. In the not so distant future, we DBAs must be able to determine when a problem is related to the network—whether one we own or the network of a cloud services provider—including when it’s a high level of data traffic that could be relieved by upgrading to a higher tier of cloud services.

These baseline networking skills are also especially important given that of all our responsibilities, data recovery is first and foremost. If your organization moves databases to the cloud, you must make sure you’ll be able to recover your data, not to mention simply access it when needed, and the network, of course is the primary conduit for doing just that. Thus, issues such as network bandwidth and latency become data accessibility issues. When a problem arises, cloud DBAs with an understanding of network management practices and the right tools can start with a traffic analysis, looking at how much is really data traffic and how much might just be bogged down by Pokémon Go enthusiasts, and then troubleshoot from there.

There are also new concerns about data safety that tie back to how users are accessing and consuming data, which requires us to have a much broader knowledge of how data is handled in transmission, in addition to an idea of how all of our systems are networked together and interconnected. The successful cloud DBA will know the difference between how Amazon hosts data and how Microsoft and Google host data, and will certainly have a deep understanding of how and where end users are creating and consuming data.

As cloud DBAs, we need to be well-versed in not only the differences between platforms, but also how that data needs to be managed and protected. Perhaps it doesn’t need an extra layer of geo-redundancy and you can remove that service in exchange for a boost in performance.

This is especially important when you consider that now more than ever, IT professionals—even DBAs—are increasingly relied on to act as a technology liaison for upper management, who are looking for an informed opinion on how to best take advantage of the cloud to benefit the bottom line. To that end, we should be prepared to continually execute against several key questions:

  • For every action a user takes, what is the associated cost?
  • Can we do better?
  • Is bandwidth being wasted on unnecessary queries and data going back and forth? If so, can we trim it?


Mind the gap

Of course, all of this change and new technology means we are and will continue to become busier than ever, and even the most basic of networking skills will take time to learn and cultivate. To that end, here are several best practices that will help you on their way to becoming a cloud DBAs, capable of bridging the gap and increasing effectiveness in the interim:

  1. Pay attention to the little things. If your organization is currently leveraging a cloud provider’s services for data storage or application databases—and this is even truer for DBAs who until now have worked primarily on-premises—you will notice small differences in day-to-day management and troubleshooting. A query that might take seconds to run on-premises could take over a minute in the cloud. An understanding of how data traverses the network will encourage DBAs to consider other possibilities, like latency, as an initial culprit, rather than heavy data traffic.
  1. Stay on top of change. New software today gets rolled out at an unbelievable pace, with updates often coming out every two or three months. As a cloud DBA, you need to look at these changes and updates and think, “Is this something we can take advantage of? If so, is it the right choice or are there other options out there?” You want your business or customers to have the best possible experience. Sometimes that could mean leveraging Azure over Amazon or vice versa. Or maybe you can find a provider that offers both, where everything is hosted in Azure but for data recovery specifically, they leverage AWS storage. Regardless, you should be aware of new trends in the marketplace and how those could benefit your business.
  1. Greater visibility is key. In the hybrid IT age, there are multiple people between you, as the DBA, and the end user, including the ISP and cloud provider. Advanced management tools like visual network path monitoring helps us regain much of the authority lost in the move to the cloud. It allows not just the simplified detection of issues in internal networks, but also extends troubleshooting through the internet and into service providers’ networks. Tools like these will be critical as we increasingly look to differentiate between data performance issues and network performance issues.
  1. Unify your view. Finally, as cloud DBAs, we should use comprehensive management and monitoring tools that provide a single dashboard of performance and the ability to drill down across database technologies and across deployment methods, including cloud. This will ensure your organization isn’t wasting valuable IT funds by addressing a database performance problem with the wrong solution. With a broader set of data and greater visibility, we can more quickly move through potential performance issues and correctly diagnose and resolve them.


So, the key to continued success for us DBAs into the future is a broader understanding of our data centers’ operations, especially the part networks play. Do we need to know how to configure routers and modems? Probably not. But the DBA who will be successful in the next generation of IT will at least have a solid understanding of the broader set of interconnected technologies that make up a complete data center; how their data is getting from point A to point B; and a baseline to help identify when performance is normal and when it’s not—all of which translates to a faster time to resolution and a more strategically leveraged IT budget.


Thomas LaRock is a Head Geek at SolarWinds and a Microsoft® certified master, SQL Server® MVP, VMware® vExpert, and a Microsoft certified trainer. He has more than 15 years’ experience in the IT industry in roles including programmer, developer, analyst and database administrator.

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